US-Russia ties jolted by crisis in Georgia
Georgia sent 1,000 troops into Pankisi Gorge Sunday.
The free hand given to Russia to prosecute its own "war on terrorism" an ongoing fight against Chechen separatists is now being slapped by Washington.Skip to next paragraph
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Russia received a stinging rebuke from the White House over the weekend, after Russian planes on Friday reportedly bombed targets some 20 miles inside the border of its southern neighbor Georgia. Sunday, a force of 1,000 Georgian Interior Ministry troops began an anticriminal, antiterror operation in the volatile Pankisi Gorge, according to wire reports. The gorge is a suspected refuge for Islamic militants.
Analysts say the American scolding is the sign of deeper unease with a growing number of Russian policies.
The crisis in Georgia where US Special Operations units are now training Georgian forces is the latest in a recent string of moves by Russia that fly in the face of American strategy. They include deepening friendships and military deals with Iraq, Iran, and North Korea all members of what George W. Bush calls an "axis of evil" as well as China.
"There are a whole array of issues where the US and Russia are at loggerheads, from the Caucasus to the Yellow Sea," says Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military analyst in Moscow. "If [Russian President] Vladimir Putin will not intervene to change this pattern of policies, Russian-American close cooperation may be at an end."
Mr. Putin has turned Russia into a newfound friend of Washington, fostering warm personal ties with Mr. Bush, and bringing Russia closer to Europe and to NATO. But he has also struggled against many members of Russia's political and military establishments to shift Russia toward the West.
One recent bright spot in US-Russia relations: Before dawn last Thursday, US, Russian, and Yugoslav officials cooperated secretly to remove enough vulnerable, weapons-grade nuclear material to make 2 1/2 nuclear bombs from a research reactor near Belgrade. It was flown to a secure facility in Russia to be blended down.
While that operation attests to the power of US-Russia partnership, other concerns are emerging.
"There are serious forces [in Russia's ruling elite] that want to change Russia's very close relationship with Washington, and right now they are on the verge of success," Mr. Felgenhauer says. "Moscow has to make a decision: Is it an American ally? Or does it just make ad hoc partnerships, when our interests coincide?"
The US reaction to the latest Russo-Georgian crisis, which was sparked a month ago when Georgia refused to extradite 13 Chechen fighters who were forced by a Russian attack to flee across the border, and were arrested by Georgian security officials, is the sternest warning to Moscow to date.
At least four bombing runs confirmed by members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has monitors on the Russo-Georgian border left one man dead and seven wounded, according to Georgian officials. Russia denies that any bombs were dropped.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Saturday that the US "regrets this loss of life and deplores the violation of Georgia's sovereignty."